There are technologies that are coming and there are technologies that are here. For example, in the next three to seven years, your business (and mine) will be affected, in some way, by wearables, the Internet of Things, drones, bendable materials, and 3D printing. But not yet (at least, not for most). However, in 2015, there are at least five technologies that have all been around for a little while and will have finally reached a certain stage of maturity. They will become mainstream this year. And they will blow up my business (and yours). Here's how.
Cloud accounting. The cloud accounting industry had grown to $1.7 billion in 2014, and by 2016, this is expected to multiply to $2.16 billion. 2015 will see the continuing growth of cloud accounting, led by products like QuickBooks Online, Sage, Xero, Intacct, NetSuite and others. Software vendors are investing significantly less in their on-premise solutions and have moved the lion's share of their development efforts to the cloud. It's easier to support and deploy, and let's face it - cloud applications are more profitable for them in the long run. Most small and mid-market companies now understand the benefits of the cloud and realize that a cloud provider's security, though nowhere near ironclad, is still better than their own. Like it or not, accounting software vendors will drag users kicking and screaming to the cloud. In 2015, I will look to move my accounting application to the cloud.
Workflow. For years, applications have included automation to help do things quicker. But in 2014, workflow services exploded into the mainstream, led by IFTTT, Zapier, Yahoo! Pipes and elastic.io. These products link online services to each other and to physical things and perform user-created functions that monitor, alert, report and improve productivity. Here are some (non-accounting or tax-related) examples: a lighting system that flashes when a baseball team hits a home run (it's connected to a sports Web site), a security system that sends texts when a door is unlocked, a phone that records every call to a Google spreadsheet for time tracking, an e-mail that automatically creates a Facebook and Pinterest posting. The list of choices is endless because users are creating it. These products will continue to interface with objects, machinery and equipment and will soon easily provide updates that a warehouse manager or director of operations needs to run the plant. In 2015 I will be using IFTTT to connect our mobile devices, people, social media and cloud applications with each other.
Video meetings. I am watching as the old-fashioned webinar continues to fade into the past and services like Google+ Hangouts On Air and GoToMeeting improve in performance and popularity. A Google+ Hangout On Air is essentially a free TV station where a business can "broadcast" its content (training, safety instructions, promos, interviews, case studies, panel discussions) to the world and then automatically save it to YouTube. My company has already started to cut back on our webinars and in 2015 we will expand the use of Google+ Hangouts On Air, holding monthly conversations, interviews and panels with our clients and outsiders to discuss the latest services that affect them.
Customer relationship management. The worldwide CRM enterprise applications market is projected to increase from $22.8 billion in 2013 to $31.8 billion in 2018. Already a hugely popular tool in the business world, CRM is rapidly penetrating the SMB market. That's because great applications like Zoho, Insightly, Nimble and Batchbook, among many others, have matured into inexpensive, cloud-based tools that ensure that tasks are remembered, customers are never forgotten and everyone is kept in the loop. My company sells some of these and larger enterprise applications, and already 2015 is looking like a busy year as new clients adopt a CRM culture and existing clients are eager to expand the use of their systems for campaign, lead and opportunity management.
E-signatures. If you've bought a house or rented a property anytime in the past couple of years, you've no doubt been asked to use EchoSign or DocuSign, two online document management applications that utilize e-signatures. These applications, and others like them, will become mainstream in 2015 and my business will adopt them in lieu of the Word docs, paper, e-mail attachments and faxes (yes, faxes) that we're still using to propose, contract, confirm and invoice our customers. The services will help us speed up the sales process and also provide a repository for documents that both we and our clients can refer to in future years. (It should be noted that these are not necessarily the same as the e-signature products that are specifically built to match the Internal Revenue Service rules.)
What about payments? There are big changes coming to payments -- ApplePay, Google Wallet, PayPal and a number of other services will be fighting over consumers' methods of payment in stores, online and through social media. And in October, EMV technology will essentially become a requirement for anyone accepting a credit card. But sadly my business still mainly receives checks. Checks! That's because I'm not in retail and most of my clients still pay by check. I'm sure you see the same. But rest assured - that will change. Just not this year.
Besides Accounting Today, Gene Marks writes for The New York Times, Forbes and Inc.com. A version of this column previously appeared on Forbes.com
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